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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

CBI Files 2 Cases Arising from 1984 Pogroms

The CBI has registered two cases against "unknown persons," regarding incidents of murder and arson, among other crimes, during the November 1984 pogroms of Sikhs in India:
The Ministry of Home Affairs had referred 10 cases registered by the Delhi Police to the CBI for examination out of which the agency firmed up investigations in two cases registered at Mangolpuri and Sultanpuri police stations. All these cases had been closed by the police saying the accused were “untraced”.
The Delhi police claim to have registered 636 cases regarding the 1984 pogroms of Sikhs, and to have secured convictions in 37 cases. This low conviction rate is another indication of impunity for the perpetrators of the 1984 massacre of Sikhs.

ENSAAF's report Twenty Years of Impunity: The November 1984 Pogroms of Sikhs in India reveals the systematic and organized manner in which state institutions, such as the Delhi Police and Congress (I) officials, perpetrated mass murder in November 1984 and later justified the violence in inquiry proceedings. The report also demonstrates that police officers not only passively observed the violence, but also actively participated in the attacks and made promises of impunity to assailants, and that at all times, the police and their superiors had sufficient force and knowledge to effectively counter the violence.

[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's blog.]

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

LA Times: Jose Padilla's America

The Los Angeles Times contains this editorial, which discusses the indictment of Jose Padilla and why the Supreme Court of the United States should hear his case despite the indictment [previous posts here and here].
WHATEVER ELSE HE IS, Jose Padilla is an American citizen. That inescapable fact explains both the Bush administration's decision last week to charge him with a crime — and the importance of the Supreme Court's upcoming decision on whether to hear his case....

Padilla, who has been in government custody for 3 1/2 years, was captured in May 2002 at a Chicago airport and accused of being a "dirty bomber," plotting to explode a small radioactive device in the United States. Shortly after being captured, he was declared an "enemy combatant" in the war against terrorism and sent to a military brig in South Carolina.

But Padilla challenged the government's right to hold him, a U.S. citizen arrested on U.S. soil, without ever proving charges in a court of law (as opposed to asserting them in a news conference). Facing an impending deadline to answer his petition before the Supreme Court — and no doubt mindful of an earlier decision requiring it to allow such enemy combatants captured on the battlefield to challenge their imprisonment — the Bush administration last week filed a criminal indictment against Padilla in federal district court.

It is the first time the administration has charged Padilla with a crime. In a telling omission, that sensational "dirty bomb" plot is not mentioned....

The administration says that because it has now charged Padilla as a criminal and moved him from a military brig to a federal penitentiary, his pending case before the Supreme Court is now moot....

The Supreme Court should still hear the case, not only for Padilla's sake but for the sake of every American. The most recent lower-court decision on the case, from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, gives the administration the authority to detain enemy combatants such as Padilla indefinitely. That precedent cannot be allowed to stand.

The question presented in the Padilla case, to paraphrase his brief before the court, is this: Can the president of the United States arrest any U.S. citizen in America and hold him indefinitely without charge in the name of the war against terrorism?

As long as this war continues, it is a question that will remain relevant. And it is a question begging for a resounding "no" from the nation's highest court.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Internment Survivor Noriyuki "Pat" Morita Dies

Veteran actor Noriyuki "Pat" Morita died at the age of 73. He will be remembered for his roles on "Happy Days" and in the Karate Kid movies. Fans may not know, however, that Morita [pictured] was forced into a Japanese internment camp at a young age. The purpose of this post is to offer some of Morita's thoughts on his days at the Gila River Internment Center:
"One day I was an invalid... The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece [link]...."

"I remember he wore dark glasses and had a mustache and was carrying a gun. Imagine that. I think back to the ludicrosity of it all: an FBI man escorting a recently able-to-walk spinal tubercular 11-year-old to a place behind barbed wire in the middle of nothing!

"I remember doing the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. It was in a barracks...(I remember) my English class; and looking out the window and seeing the American flag waving, juxtaposed against a guard tower in the background, I had this sense of 'What's this all about?' Why am I saying 'liberty and justice for all'? I was too young to rationalize this, but I do remember that the hurt of bigotry began early on and was to last for many, many years. whenever I think about it, it still hurts. [link]"

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Praying Muslims Allegedly Profiled at NFL Game (updated)

According to Newsday:

Several Muslim football fans claim they were profiled and unfairly detained by stadium security personnel and the FBI at Giants Stadium during a game in September when they were seen praying, alarming other fans who considered their behavior suspicious.

[The fans] were removed from their seats and questioned by security personnel after other fans saw them prostrating themselves on the ground as part of daily Muslim prayers....

[A]n FBI agent [allegedly] said they were being detained because someone had reported they were taking photos of the building, and asked if any of them had cameras. They said no, had their identification documents checked and were questioned for about a half-hour on topics including which mosques they attended, and where and how frequently they prayed....

[According to one of the Muslim men involved, they] were later told they could return to watch the game, but asked to sit in different seats.... They chose instead to leave....
UPDATE:
The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority said it will provide a special area for anyone who wants to pray at Giants Stadium [pictured] or the Continental Airlines Arena.

That's in response to Muslim groups' outcries after several fans who prayed at a New York Giants game were detained and questioned by the FBI in September.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

After Three Years, Padilla Finally Charged

Jose Padilla [pictured], an American born citizen who was listed as an enemy combatant in 2002, was finally charged with a crime after being arrested on suspicion of being the "dirty bomber." Court documents released yesterday make no mention of this alleged plot to conduct a radiological "dirty bomb" attack; instead, Padilla was charged, generally, with engaging in a terrorist conspiracy. The indictment provides Padilla with some semblance of due process and seemingly serves as an attempt by the government to skirt a possible adverse ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Padilla was arrested on May 8, 2002, and declared an enemy combatant on June 9 of the same year. He did not have access to an attorney until March 3, 2004 -- two years after his detention. He was finally charged, according to indictment papers that were unsealed yesterday, over three years since he was arrested in May of 2002.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507 (2004), that an American born individual who was declared an enemy combatant, captured overseas (in this case Afghanistan), and held in the United States must be able to challenge his detention: "due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the factual basis for that detention before a neutral decisionmaker."

Padilla has a similar case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. The question the Court would confront is whether an American citizen that has been labeled an enemy combatant, captured in the United States, and held in the United States, has a similar right to challenge his detention. In indicting Padilla, the government perhaps avoided a possible Court ruling in favor of Padilla.

Commenting on the indictment, the Washington Post said, "Dumping Mr. Padilla back in federal court cannot undo the lengthy detention-without-charge that he has endured. But it does help to reestablish the principle that no one can be held indefinitely based only on allegations by the executive branch." Indeed, it was in the Hamdi case that Justice O'Connor famously wrote for the majority, "a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens."

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Uncovering Muslim Identity

In exceptional cases, we reproduce the entire text of an article or essay if it offers compelling arguments that cannot be effectively summarized or described in a short paragraph or post. The following essay, by Yale law professor Kenji Yoshino, is one such instance. I encourage you to read it in full. DNSI's Valarie Kaur is mentioned.
On July 11, 2004, Rajinder Singh Khalsa, an Indian Sikh man, was accosted by a group of men as he stood in front of his brother’s restaurant wearing a turban. "Give me that dirty curtain," one of the men said. "It’s not a curtain," Khalsa said. "It’s a turban." "Go back to your country," another man shot back. Khalsa said: "But we are American, where should we go?" The man suggested Iran. Khalsa said: "We are not Iranian. We are not Muslim. We are Sikhs from India." He said: "Then go back to India." The men began to attack his brother. "Don’t do this, he’s innocent," Khalsa said. The men then turned to him. They beat him on the nose, eyes, head, everywhere, not stopping until he was unconscious on the pavement. Before they left, they took off his turban and threw it away.

This and other stories are captured in Valarie Kaur’s forthcoming Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath, a film chronicling the American response to 9/11. The documentary suggests that many Muslims, and those who can be mistaken for Muslims, are living in a climate of fear. Steeped in that climate, many individuals are facing hard choices about whether to distance themselves from Islam by, for instance, dropping their veils or their Arabic in public. The plight of Muslims in a post-9/11 world sets into a relief a question Americans of all different backgrounds are asking: How much assimilation is enough? And how much is too much?

America has had a longstanding love affair with assimilation. At least since Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur’s 1782 Letters from an American Farmer, this country has touted assimilation as the way Americans of different backgrounds would be "melted into a new race of men." By the time Israel Zangwill’s play of that name was published in 1908, the "melting pot" had acquired all the burnish of an American ideal. Only with the civil rights movement of the 1960s was this ideal challenged in any systematic way, with calls to "celebrate diversity" and to move "beyond the melting pot." And notwithstanding that challenge, assimilation has never lost its hold on the American imagination. Indeed, as our country grows more pluralistic, we have seen a renaissance of the melting pot ideal. Fearful that we are spinning apart into balkanized groups, even liberal lions like Arthur Schlesinger have called for a recommitment to that ethic. In the United States, as in other industrialized democracies, we are seeing the "return of assimilation."

It’s easy to see why assimilation would be so alluring. Assimilation is often necessary to fluid social interaction, to peaceful coexistence, and even to the dialogue through which difference is valued. It would be foolish, even petulant, to argue categorically against assimilation, as speaking a language, wearing clothes, having manners, and obeying the law are all acts of assimilation. As these examples suggest, some forms of assimilation are a precondition of civilization.

At the same time, we should recognize that assimilation also has a dark side. An ethic of assimilation can force politically vulnerable groups to conform to the dominant group, often at great cost. One of the primary ways in which this occurs is through the demand to "cover." The sociologist Erving Goffman coined the term "covering" in 1963 to describe the ways in which individuals mute or downplay their stigmatized identities to fit into the mainstream. It was Khasla’s failure to cover his religion by removing his turban that triggered the violence against him.

Famous contemporary examples of covering abound. Ramón Estévez covered his ethnicity when he changed his name to Martin Sheen, as did Krishna Bhanji when he changed his name to Ben Kingsley. Margaret Thatcher covered her status as a woman when she trained with a voice coach to lower the timbre of her voice. Long after they came out as lesbians, Rosie O’Donnell and Mary Cheney still covered, keeping their same-sex partners out of the public eye. Issur Danielovitch Demsky covered his Judaism when he became Kirk Douglas, as did Joseph Levitch when he became Jerry Lewis. Franklin Delano Roosevelt covered his disability by ensuring his wheelchair was always hidden behind a desk before his Cabinet entered.

What’s puzzling about these instances is that they all concern identities that are already protected by civil rights laws. Albeit with varying degrees of conviction, Americans have come to a consensus that people should not be penalized for being different along the dimensions of race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or religion. That consensus, however, does not protect individuals against covering demands. The civil rights revolution has stalled on covering because Americans still view assimilation to be a benign force.

Yet as the case of post-9/11 Muslims suggest, the covering demand can often be less an escape from discrimination than its effect. Soon after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, an article was published about Muslims in New York City that read like a covering ethnography. The piece reports that Muslim private schools are telling children to conceal "any religious emblems," and that "some Muslim leaders are discussing plans for women to change the way they dress, perhaps exchanging headscarves for hats and turtleneck pullovers." It depicts a woman who, "a day after the attack, arrived at a New York City Health Department office demanding bureaucrats change her son’s surname from ‘Mohammed’ to ‘Smith.’" The article also observes that "neighborhoods in New York where you were more likely to see Egyptian, Jordanian, or Syrian flags . . . are now covered in American flags, their Middle Eastern flags discreetly hidden for the time being."

Such fear-based assimilation is the civil rights issue of our time. We need to have a national conversation about why we will protect being a particular identity (such as being a Muslim) but not protect doing the things culturally associated with that identity (such as wearing a headscarf). The immediate answer seems to be that "flaunting" an identity betokens a choice to take pride in that identity, rather than doing all that one can to hide or downplay it. Yet a protection for an identity that forecloses any expression of affiliation or pride is a thin protection indeed.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Chicago Civil Rights Activists Urge “Middle Eastern” Category for Police Tracking

On November 18, 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported, "Citing examples of racial profiling, Muslim and civil rights activists told a legislative committee Thursday that police in Illinois should be required to add a category of "Middle Eastern" to those they use to track who is stopped by officers.

That suggestion was part of legislation drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union to help monitor police behavior toward people of Middle Eastern descent as well as other minorities. The legislation, not yet introduced in the General Assembly, would amend a 2003 statute that outlines racial data police officers should collect during traffic stops.

Many police agencies in Illinois log the race of drivers they pull over, but "Middle Eastern" is not among the listed ethnicities. People of Middle Eastern descent are often logged as Caucasian, activists said, so racial profiling of the community remains hidden.

'How can we fix a problem if we don't have a way to monitor it?' said Christina Abraham, civil rights coordinator at the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, testifying before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee. Abraham listed several incidents in which Chicago police officers allegedly mistreated Arab-Americans in ways she said constituted racial profiling. In November 2004, Chicago police arrested Ahmed Awad, a Bridgeview-based physical therapist born in Egypt. He alleged no reason was given for his arrest and that he was called 'jihadi' and 'bin Laden' when he asked to pray during his incarceration."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Op-Ed: “Voting at Mosque Brings Issues to Light”

On November 14, 2005, The Morning Call ran a letter-to-the-editor from Peter A. Pettit, an Allentown resident, who wrote about some citizens' discomfort with a local mosque serving as a voting site. Pettit writes, "The Morning Call reported that one-third of the voters at the Whitehall Township masjid, or mosque, expressed concern at the voting site. That is a sad replay of mistaken anger and misplaced anxiety.

Our elders can remind us that Pennsylvania Germans fell under suspicion during the world wars of the 20th century. Just because the United States was at war with the German state, was it right to distrust and demean those of German descent in our Valley? Of course not!

Are not most of the worshipers at the Islamic Center American citizens? Don't they pay taxes and vote in elections and serve their communities and work productively in our shared society?

What's to worry about? They don't represent Islamic fundamentalist terrorism any more than my grandparents represented Nazism.

The American values of hospitality and equal opportunity have cultivated diversity and mutual understanding in this Valley, making it an increasingly attractive place to live and work.

When folks come to the Lehigh Valley, they become part of American culture, having invested their lives in making that choice. We owe them the same respect and dignity that we ask for ourselves.

If it seems awkward to offer that, it is only because we haven't taken the trouble to get to know our neighbors better."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Man Who Fired at Philadelphia Mosque Charged with “Ethnic Intimidation”

On November 9, 2005, the Associated Press reported, "A man who allegedly fired dozens of shots into cars parked at a suburban Philadelphia mosque was charged with ethnic intimidation, police said.

Robert Blackburn, 53, of Hatfield, used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot up two cars in the parking lot of the North Penn Mosque early Tuesday, police said.

'He's not known to us,' said Shams Huda, who works with the mosque. 'I don't think we've ever seen him before. ... No one was outside, thank God. This is very serious'...

The mosque has reported about a half-dozen minor harassment incidents in the past year, such as trespassing on the roof or throwing eggs, Hannan said.

'From our point of view, we need to have more dialogue with people so they know what we are,' he said."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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ISNA Cleared in Senate Investigation

On November 15, 2005, The Indianapolis Star reported, "A U.S. Senate committee found nothing 'alarming' in the financial records of the Plainfield-based Islamic Society of North America and nearly two dozen other Muslim groups the committee reviewed searching for terrorist connections.

'Of course we were sure that nothing would come out with regard to ISNA, but it is good to see that they have come to that conclusion as well,' said Louay Safi, executive director of an Islamic Society program that develops new Muslim leaders.

In seeking the tax records of the Muslim groups in December 2003, Senate Finance Committee leaders said they would look at the 'crucial role that charities and foundations play in terror financing' and that 'often these groups are nothing more than shell companies.'

But almost two years later, the committee has concluded its work with no plans to issue a report, forward any findings to law enforcement agents, hold hearings or propose new legislation.

'We did not find anything alarming enough that required additional follow-up beyond what law enforcement is already doing,' U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the committee, said in a statement. 'If something in the future does cause new concern, we will continue the investigation.'

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal authorities have shut down a few of the largest Muslim charities in the United States under suspicion of funneling money to terrorists. Similar freezes have been placed on assets of organizations in other parts of the world."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Muslim Becomes Mayor of NJ, Despite Fliers Alleging Terror Links

On November 13, 2005, Newsday reported, "PROSPECT PARK, N.J. -- The anonymous flier mailed to households days before a new mayor was to be chosen was direct and devastating in its claims: A Muslim council member, one of three candidates for the post, was 'a betrayer living among us' with ties to the 9/11 terrorists.

The mailing said Mohamed Khairullah 'should not be living in our clean town' and 'will try to poison our thoughts about our great country.'

But the letter failed to derail his candidacy; the Borough Council chose Khairullah in a 4-0 vote Wednesday night, making him one of only two Muslim mayors in New Jersey.

'The people of Prospect Park are great people,' said Khairullah, 30, a high school teacher. 'I'm just happy to have this opportunity.'

Arab-Americans and Muslims make up about 15 percent of this half-square-mile borough's population of nearly 5,800; Hispanics account for about 40 percent, with Caucasians and African-Americans representing most of the remainder.

The mayor's seat was vacated last month when Will Kubofcik stepped down because his family moved to Bloomingdale. The local Democratic party nominated three candidates to fill the remainder of the four-year term, which expires in December 2006. Khairullah, a Syrian native and former Saudi Arabian resident who was first elected to the council just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, was one of the three nominees.

In the mailings, the anonymous author said Khairullah has made public comments 'which show his ties to the people responsible for the horrible attacks of 9/11.'

Khairullah called those claims baseless and disgusting, and said they endangered the safety of him and his family. He said the flier probably referred to - and misrepresented - comments he made at a pro-Palestinian rally in Paterson last year in which he said American Muslims need to do their part to affect change in the Middle East, either through political activism or economic boycotts.

'I just couldn't believe someone would stoop down to that level,' he said. 'It's one thing to attack me, but to attack me in terms that place my safety and the safety of those around me in grave danger is really low.'"

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Twenty-Five Immigrant, Civil Rights, and Religious Groups Demand Kirk Apology

On November 13, 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported, "Twenty-five immigrant and civil rights groups on Friday joined a Muslim organization in demanding U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) apologize for remarks he made condoning discrimination against some Arabs.

During a technology conference Nov. 5 at Northwestern University, Kirk said: 'I'm OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states.'

Kirk, a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, defended his remarks Wednesday after the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded a retraction and an apology. The 10th District congressman said it is crucial for the United States to protect its borders from foreign terrorists.

The groups also calling for an apology include the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office of Hispanic Ministry; the Korean American Senior Center; the United Methodist Church's Northern Illinois Conference; and the National Arab American Medical Association of Illinois."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Homeland Security Official Suggests Muslims Register Before Flying

On November 8, 2005, The Journal News reported, "Local Muslims yesterday reacted with sadness and outrage to a Department of Homeland Security official's recent urging that they and Arab-Americans register with the federal government before flying, to reduce the chance their names are flagged as security risks.

Daniel Sutherland, the department's head of civil rights, made the comments at an Oct. 20 seminar on Homeland Security sponsored by the University of Maryland's Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

Sutherland was responding to a question posed by a reporter who wanted to know what options were available to Muslims and Arab-Americans who frequently were targets of additional scrutiny at airports, Valerie Smith, a spokeswoman for the department, said yesterday.

"Mr. Sutherland was stating that any individual who has concerns about secondary screenings has this option available to them, but we do not recommend that all Americans or particular groups of Americans register in this program, only those individuals who have concerns about secondary screening could consider this an option," Smith said.

Sutherland's suggestion was that Muslim and Arab-American travelers complete a form on the Web page of the Transportation Security Administration, a division of Homeland Security responsible for protecting mass transit systems, including airports.

But Gilbert Gordon, president of the Jerrahi Mosque in Chestnut Ridge, said any such program aimed at one specific group could be viewed as 'an invasion of their privacy and an invasion of their civil liberty.'

Rather than achieve greater security and improved relations, having Muslims register would do nothing more than foster 'distrust and animosity between the American government and Muslims,' said Gordon, who lives in Chestnut Ridge."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Sikh Barred Entry at Canadian Legion Hall, Forcing Change to Out-of-Date Rule

On November 18, 2005 the Brampton Guardian reported, "Royal Canadian Legion branches in Brampton have been forced to change an out-of-date rule, which discriminates against some Sikhs and Orthodox Jews.

Local veterans call it a tradition that they fiercely enforce-- no 'headgear' in the Legion clubroom. Head coverings must be removed out of respect for the fallen.

Branch 609 on Queen Street East enforced that rule on Remembrance Day, telling Ravinder Singh Dhaliwal, a 26-year-old Brampton university student, he was the only adult member of the community attending the service who was not allowed in the clubroom.

'It was humiliating,' Dhaliwal said of how it made him felt to be singled out.

He was pulled aside and told by President Marie Hayden that 'headgear' was not allowed in the clubroom, including Dhaliwal's turban.

'It's unfortunate, but it's nothing personal,' Hayden told The Guardian. 'It's a rule. I wasn't disrespectful. I was very polite.'

Members of the Legion, a private club, had voted for that rule, she said, and she was just enforcing it...

Poulin and Ontario Command Executive Director Marlene Lambros told The Guardian the 'no headgear' rule was modified eight years ago when all branches across the nation were notified in writing that religious headdress is an exception to the rule.

The presidents of Brampton's branches-- 609 and 15-- both say they were unaware of the change in policy at the upper tier. They said the last they had heard on the issue was in the early 1990s and the decision was left up to the local branches."


This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Controversy Over the Turban.

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Religious Hate Crimes Have Increased in Glasgow, Scotland Since 9/11

On November 16, 2005 The Scotsman reported, "Religious hate crimes have increased in Scotland's biggest city since the Twin Towers terrorist attacks, a report has said. The 9/11 outrage marked a turning point in Glasgow when racial intolerance and abuse turned into more religiously-motivated attacks. People wearing distinctive religious clothing or symbols were a particular target, said the report. All religious groups saw Muslims as the group under most pressure. But Sikh, Hindu and Jewish communities were also suffering attack, threat or abuse, said the report. The findings came in a study commissioned by the Scottish Executive and Glasgow City Council. The study examined relations between religions in the city, and gathered information to be used by an 'inter-faith liaison officer' with the council."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Hate Crimes and Violence.

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Diverse Group of Young British Muslims Gathers to Discuss Life After 7/7 Bombings

On November 21, 2005 The Guardian reported, "Last week the Guardian brought together a diverse group of young Muslims to debate life after the London bombs. Two moods emerged: a desire to address extremism in their midst, and disaffection with British foreign policy... There is not always defensiveness and denial in the Muslim response to the bombs detonated in London, which placed Islam at the centre of a national debate. But the influential Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, addressing the second annual Guardian Muslim Youth Forum last week, said young Muslims must stop complaining, be clear about the source of their problems and get themselves organised into 'critical citizens'. Unlike the riots in France, the bombs in Britain were 'a religious problem, so you should deal with that,' he told them. The teachers, IT professionals, counsellors, community workers, politicians, academics, students and imams who debated together at the forum were clear: the diverse Muslim communities are interrogating themselves more than anyone else. There was, however, anger that their own reflections were not matched by a spirit of self-criticism in government or an acceptance that its policies in Iraq and Afghanistan helped extremism take root. Since July, Tony Blair's administration has mixed anti-terror laws and an attempted new dialogue with young Muslims. Many still felt dissatisfied with how politicians are talking and listening to them."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about the London Terror Attacks of 7/7/05 and about the Backlash After London Bombings.

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Update: New York Religious Garb Bill

The New York Daily News reported on the testimony regarding a Religious Garb Bill drafted by the Sikh Coalition. The bill seeks to amend the New York administrative code and, if passed, would prevent "all uniformed city agencies from mandating that their employees comply with a uniform code that would require such person to violate or forego a practice of his or her creed or religion" [see previous post here].

According to Frank Lombardi of the NY Daily News:
Testifying at a hearing on the bill, mayoral special counsel Anthony Crowell argued that the bill "goes too far" because it doesn't include a review process for ensuring the safety of the worker, coworkers and the public.

Dozens of Sikhs listened politely as Crowell eviscerated the bill, and some respectfully applauded when he finished reading his testimony.

But a parade of Sikh witnesses was firm in supporting the measure, including Amric Singh Rathour, who said he was fired as a police traffic enforcement agent for insisting on wearing his turban.

"It seems wrong that a person like me, who was born and raised in Queens, could not direct traffic in Queens because I wear a turban," said Rathour, who was reinstated in a settlement of his federal suit last year.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Spinning Wheel Film Festival

Today we interviewed SHER SINGH (pictured) who was arrested on September 12, 2001 as the first suspected terrorist after the 9/11 attacks. He was riding a Boston-bound train when it stopped in Providence, Rhode Island. He was wearing a turban and kirpan, both articles of Sikh faith. His ‘suspicious’ appearance had caught the attention of the FBI who sent federal agents and local police with bomb-sniffing dogs to the station to intercept him.

Officers rushed the entrance of the train and pointed rifles at the man: “Get your f--- hands up.” They pulled him out of the train at gunpoint and handcuffed him. One officer said, “How’s Osama bin Laden?” They led him onto the platform, where crowds of people had gathered, shouting profanities. Someone yelled, “You killed my brother.” Others shouted, “Kill him.”

Sher Singh was released within three hours of his arrest, because it was clear he was innocent. Authorities announced that he had no connection to the attacks. Yet the footage of his arrest was broadcasted and published around the world for three days, showing a tall man with a turban and long black beard, eyes cast downward, led in handcuffs by black-uniformed officers believing they had apprehended the first terrorist

We had first heard this story from Sher Singh in December 2001. Four years later, he reflected on his experience:

I felt and sometimes feel a little estranged. I feel for a split second, maybe I’m not at home here. But then I tell myself it’s all in my mind. If somebody has or had a negative opinion about my appearance or any Sikh's appearance, then it’s in that person’s mind. That person needs to open up. Home is where you are. No looking back.” He smiles.

After this happened, I got more involved in my community. I gave talks about Sikhism, attending rallies on civil rights, and talked to children on understanding different faiths. I felt that I had to give back a lot more than I had ever given back.

“I’m now a solution architect for EED; I develop solutions for the Navy and Marine Corps and help develop their information technology. I get to do very high level design and it’s a new challenge everyday.”

In his story alone, I see the worst and best parts of the American experience: Sher was a victim of racial profiling, but upon his release, he was able to choose to defend American national security, developing technologies that support troops abroad.

We continued looking at the tension between the history of discrimination in America and the American dream when we made our next visit to the office of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT). We interviewed the Executive Director of SAALT, DEEPA IYER (pictured). She explained a history of discrimination toward Asian Americans to provide context to post-9/11 hate violence:

"It’s dangerous to look at post-9/11 by itself. We really need to realize that there has been a history of discrimination that goes back over 100 years for immigrants in the United States. Laws by the US prevented Asians from becoming naturalized, owning land, immigrating to the US. We must remember that many South Asians challenged those laws and became active in their communities. They demanded to be treated with equality, dignity, and justice.

"9/11 was a lightening rod for sentiments against immigrants and people of color, but it did more than that. Just a week after 9/11, a high number of incidents of bias were recorded in the media by South Asians and Arab Americans. SAALT did a report within a month after 9/11 looking at bias incidents. We found 645 reported in the media in just one week. That’s a snapshot of a much larger picture of what happened in the ensuing months and years after 9/11. In the pre-9/11 atmosphere, there was a muted anti-immigrant sentiment, and 9/11 became a space for these sentiments to explode. Suddenly, it became fine to speak openly and visibly about South Asians, Sikhs, Muslims, and people who are brown as possible terrorists."

I was grateful that organizations like SAALT record these incidents and raise awareness through resources and dialogue groups. You can check out their work here.

The team is battling colds and general fatigue, but we are all staying at the lovely home of Vidya and Tonse Raju (who have supported 'the arts' for years now as Sharat's parents). We are getting some good rest here as we head for the finish line. We are joined by our final sound technician, JIM (pictured to the left of our first cameraman Don.) We have only two more interviews left in Washington, DC before we wrap up production! Here we go.

Support our endeavor.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

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PUNJAB COPS CONVICTED OF 1995 MURDER OF ACTIVIST KHALRA; KPS Gill Remains Free

On Friday, November 18, 2005, Additional District Judge Bhupinder Singh in Patiala convicted six Punjab police officials in the 1995 abduction and murder case of human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra. The court sentenced Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Jaspal Singh and Amarjit Singh to life imprisonment for murder, abduction with intent to murder, destruction of evidence, and criminal conspiracy. The court sentenced officers Satnam Singh, Surinderpal Singh, Pritpal Singh, and Jasbir Singh to seven years imprisonment for abduction with intent to murder, two years imprisonment for destruction of evidence, and five years imprisonment for criminal conspiracy. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Ajit Singh Sandhu, the primary accused, and DSP Ashok Kumar died during the trial of the case. A revision is pending in the High Court of the earlier discharge of accused Rashpal Singh.

Through government records, Mr. Khalra demonstrated that security forces abducted, murdered, and secretly cremated an estimated 25,000 Sikhs in Punjab from 1984 to 1995. In early 1995, Mr. Khalra warned at a press conference that the Punjab government “was highly mistaken in thinking that by eliminating him the matter relating to 25,000 unclaimed bodies” in Punjab “[could] be put to an end.” He further stated that he was prepared to die for the cause of justice, and appealed to the people to “hold the police chief KPS Gill” [pictured] accountable for his murder and the mass cremations in Punjab. Punjab police abducted Mr. Khalra on September 6, 1995, tortured him in detention, and killed him in late October 1995.

Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra, widow of Mr. Khalra, welcomed today’s verdicts, but reiterated her demand that former Punjab police chief KPS Gill also be tried. During the Khalra trial, Special Police Officer (SPO) Kuldip Singh testified that he witnessed KPS Gill interrogate Mr. Khalra several days prior to his murder. SPO Kuldip Singh also testified that Mr. Khalra had been tortured. Despite this testimony, no officer was charged with Mr. Khalra’s torture, nor was KPS Gill charged or summoned for examination.

ENSAAF commends and appreciates Mrs. Paramjit Kaur Khalra for persevering in her fight for truth and justice, and also commends her legal team, led by Rajvinder Singh Bains, for putting the best case forward, despite threats. In his arguments and rebuttal before the Court, Mr. Bains highlighted: the death threats received by Mr. Khalra from Punjab police because of his investigations into mass cremations; the eyewitnesses to his abduction, illegal detention, torture, and disposal of his body; the suppression of key evidence by the government prosecutor; intimidation and implication of witnesses in false cases by the accused police officers to prevent witnesses from testifying; and failings in police alibis.

These convictions represent a major victory against impunity for systematic human rights abuses in Punjab. The convictions should mark the beginning of a new chapter of accountability, signaling an end to impunity for hundreds of perpetrators who committed torture and murder, among other abuses, during the Punjab counter-insurgency operations of 1984 to 1995.

[This entry is cross-posted on ENSAAF's Blog]


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Saturday, November 19, 2005

The East Valley Tribune

To commemorate the four-year anniversary of the murder of Balbir Sodhi, Arizona's East Valley Tribune ran a front page article about his story and our film Divided We Fall.

On a Saturday in 2001, less than two weeks after the S ept. 11 terrorist attacks, thousands gathered at Phoenix Civic Plaza to honor a man most had never met.

(Gaurav Singh, a relative of Balbir Singh Sodhi, kneels by a memorial outside the Mesa Star Convenience store where Sodhi was shot and killed in September 2001. Photo by Tim Hacker, Tribune)

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a turbaned Sikh from India, was gunned down a week earlier while planting flowers outside his Mesa convenience store. He was the first person killed nationwide in a post-Sept. 11 hate crime. His killer, Frank Roque, who is now on death row, shouted, "I am a patriot" while being arrested.

Jews, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs alike poured out their hearts at the memorial for the man who had been shot for looking like a Muslim. The mood was sorrowful, but those who talked to the media had hope for peace and unity.

"I feel like he was the sacrificial lamb to bring us together," one woman said.

Four years later, however, Sikhs as well as Muslim and Arab Americans, still face regular discrimination in the Valley and across the nation.

They are stared at in grocery stores and airports. They are given the finger while driving Valley streets. Sodhi’s brother, Rana Sodhi, even is told to "go back to Iraq" while working at the same store where his brother was killed.

A feature-length documentary due out early next year examines why some Americans became so violent and aggressive against Sikhs and other groups after Sept. 11. It tells the stories of the people changed forever by that violence, including Balbir Singh Sodhi’s family.

To the film’s creator Valarie Kaur, "Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath" is essentially the story of two young adults on the most important journey of their lives.

That journey started as Kaur sat in her bedroom for three days after learning of Sodhi’s Sept. 15, 2001, murder.

Kaur was 20 then and a student at Stanford University. At the time, she was preparing to take the fall quarter off, fly to Punjab, India, and document oral histories with her cousin Sunny Gill through a grant. But when the terrorist attacks happened, they canceled the trip.

At the same time, Kaur, a third-generation Sikh who grew up in California, was receiving e-mails on a Sikh mailing list. Sikhs were getting chased and beaten across the country, the e-mails said. Then Sodhi was killed.

She learned about it on TV, then by phone calls from her family. Sodhi was a friend of Kaur’s family. It knocked her flat.

"I really was just kind of paralyzed," Kaur said. "I was in my pajamas for three days. I just avoided the television for three days."

For those days, she thought hard about what came next. What would she do?

Then, her grandfather’s words in Punjabi came to her: Naam Daan Isnaan. Or, loosely translated: In order to connect to God and yourself, you must give of yourself. You must act.

"I just realized I couldn’t stay in that black-and-white world. I had to face the grayness outside," Kaur said.

She rewrote her grant proposal and hit the road with Gill at her side as cameraman.

Neither had any film experience, but they wanted to document the violence. He who holds the camera, holds the power, Kaur said.

For the next four months, Kaur and Gill drove from northern California to Mesa to New York and Washington D.C. to document the aftermath of Sept. 11 in the Sikh, Muslim and Arab American communities.

There were endless stories to tell and the two told many, logging 100 hours of footage talking to politicians, lawyers, scholars and the victims of hate crimes.

At the end of the four months, Kaur finally traveled to India. But this time, it was to talk to Sodhi’s widow.

With all Kaur had learned on her trip, of countless crimes against Sikhs in the U.S., she expected the widow to be full of anger toward Americans, the same anger Kaur started to feel along her journey.

But the still-grieving widow wasn’t angry. She had only this to say to Americans: "Thank you. Thank you for taking my husband into your hearts. The action of one man can’t overshadow that."

It seems to Rana Sodhi that every time there’s a terrorist attack somewhere in the world, his problems in Mesa start all over again.

It was recently, just after the July 7 bombings in London, that teenagers came into the Chevron gas station he runs. They wanted to use the bathroom, but the store is too small to have one for the public.

When he told the teens this, one started yelling.

"He yelled to me, ‘You . . . Iraqi, go back to your country’, "" Sodhi explained.

"I said, ‘I’m not an Iraqi. I’m from India.’ "

"He said, ‘You’re a liar.’ "

Sodhi called the police, but they couldn’t do anything. The teens were gone.

It’s stories like this that have become a regular part of Sikh life after Sept. 11.

"Before 9/11 . . . I never ever think anything about hate crime; I can go anywhere without fear," Sodhi said. "And right now, I think about it before I go anywhere."

Before leaving work or home, Sodhi checks outside for anything (or anyone) suspicious. He doesn’t go near dark, shadowed places in the parking lot. He’s too afraid he’ll end up like his brother, who was killed in that parking lot, or his other brother, Sukhpal Singh Sodhi, who was murdered in a San Francisco taxi 10 months after Sept. 11.

"We lost two brothers in one year because of these things and it comes to your mind," Rana Sodhi said. "Sometimes it’s very painful and frustrating.

"Both brothers when they got shot they were working. We’re working hard and doing all those things and people are just doing — killing. What’s the purpose? What’s the reason?"

Rana Sodhi said the solution is education. He tries to do some of it himself. He has gone to the Mesa classrooms of all three of his children to explain to other students what it means to be Sikh, that they don’t cut their hair and that’s why they wear a turban.

He’s grateful Kaur is making "Divided We Fall." He and his family have given several interviews.

And despite the occasional problems at the store or around town, Sodhi said most people in the Valley have rallied around his family and welcomed the Sikh community after Sept. 11.

"I think our family loves this country and loves, in this country, people," Sodhi said. "And we’ve had so much love received from people.

"But we have some people that don’t understand the value of this country. And if everyone took the opportunity to understand each other and help each other, then that makes things better."

The footage Kaur and Gill shot on the road was pretty raw, Kaur said.

At the end of the four-month journey, she edited it down to a short and showed it around North America, at colleges and film festivals.

At one such festival, she met Sharat Raju, a director who won awards for a fictional short film about Sikhs after Sept. 11. Raju and Kaur decided to make Kaur’s footage into a feature-length film.

Raju’s team got Kaur to go on the road again this year to re-interview all the people she spoke with the first time.

Both sets of footage are being combined in Los Angeles, Kaur said, but the crew still needs financial help to finish on time.

Kaur said the journey and these stories have changed her life. She is now a graduate student at Harvard Divinity S chool and occasionally speaks across the country about her experience.

"The whirlwind came when I was paralyzed by fear," Kaur said of mayhem in her fourmonth trip. "It swept me up and it hasn’t let go."

To support the project, visit dwf-film.com

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Role of Islam in Public Schools Upheld

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the use of Muslim names and prayers in role-playing lessons by a California public school [see previous post here]. Two Christian families challenged the teaching sessions, arguing that the school's attempt to educate the students about Islam was, in fact, an attempt to indoctrinate the students in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

A federal district court disagreed with the plaintiffs, and the court of appeals affirmed in a short decision requiring little justification. The attorney for the school district noted that the decision "underscores the fact that what the district and its teachers did was entirely within the mainstream of educational practice." The plaintiffs may seek rehearing before a panel of the entire Ninth Circuit.

[HT: "How Appealing"]

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Joint Press Release from the Sikh Coalition and the Office of Council Member David Weprin (NY)

City Hall (November 17, 2005) – Council Member David I. Weprin (D-Hollis) [pictured], Chair of the Council Finance Committee, hosted a press conference today with the Sikh Coalition and many other organizations. The press conference took place prior to the first hearing on Int. 577, the Uniformed Agency Anti-Discrimination bill.

The bill, drafted by the Sikh Coalition , seeks to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to precluding all uniformed city agencies from mandating that their employees comply with a uniform code that would require such person to violate or forego a practice of his or her creed or religion.

Employee uniform policies have been a source of debate in New York City government agencies. Two Sikh New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) officers were fired in 2001 by the NYPD because they refused to remove their religiously-mandated turbans. The New York City Transit Authority (“TA”) presently requires its Sikh and Muslim employees to brand their religious headdress with the Transit Authority’s corporate logo in order to maintain their current employment titles. The TA had initially demanded that its Sikh and Muslim employees remove their religious headdress entirely.

In addition to the Sikh Coalition, the following is a sampling of organizations that support Int. 577 and attended the press conference: American Jewish Committee, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, Anti-Defamation League of New York, New York Immigration Coalition, Coney Island Avenue Project, South Asian Bar Association of New York, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, Arab American Association, Association of Muslim American Lawyers, The Anti-Defamation League, Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Gurdwara, Sikh Cultural Society.

At the hearing following the press conference, the TA employees who were victims of religious discrimination, led Council Member David Weprin and the Sikh Coalition, testified that they worked for decades without being required to wear a TA logo on their religious headdress. A United States Department of Justice study during February 2005 found that TA workers regularly wear Yankees and Mets caps, fashion knit caps, and TA issued winter hats without a logo.

“I do not believe it to be unreasonable to ask that City agencies respect the practices of different religions by not directing that in order for an employee to retain his or her job, he or she must forgo a particular religious creed and violate a religious mandate,” said Council Member Weprin. “As John F. Kennedy said, we must ‘make the world safe for diversity.’ That I believe is the purpose of this legislation and larger task of this City Council.”

“There are turban-wearing Sikhs fighting side by side with American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the army of Great Britain. If a Sikh can fight and die with American troops in Iraq, they should be able to police New York City’s streets,” said Amric Singh Rathour [pictured], a NYPD traffic enforcement agent who filed a federal lawsuit against the NYPD after being fired for refusing to remove his turban. “ I was delighted to win my lawsuit, but I hope no New Yorker has to go to court again to serve his or her city,” said Mr. Rathour.

“My supervisor tried to physically place a Transit Authority logo on my turban,” said Brijinder Singh Gill, a former TA Station Agent who decided to quit his job as a result of the incident. “I never felt so humiliated.”

“There is nothing about a turban or a hijab that stops one from being a great police officer or transit employee,” said Amardeep Singh, Legal Director of the Sikh Coalition. “ New York City is the world’s capital. Our city agencies should have uniform policies that reflect the city’s diversity rather than rejecting it. We welcome a bill that will require city agencies to evaluate employees on their ability to do their job, rather than their religious headdress.”

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

French Muslim Leaders Issue Fatwa Against Rioting

On November 9, 2005 ISNA reported, "French Muslim leaders on Sunday, November 6, issued a fatwa banning Muslims from joining the unlawful riots raging across the country. 'It is not acceptable to express feelings of desperation through damaging public properties and carrying out arson,' read the religious edict issued by the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF)’s Fatwa Body. 'Under Islam, one cannot get one of his/her rights at the expense of others,' stressed the fatwa, a copy of which was obtained by IslamOnline.net. The fatwa cited noble verses that read: 'Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.' (The Cow:190), 'Eat and drink of that which Allah hath provided, and do not act corruptly, making mischief in the earth.' (The Cow: 60) and 'Lo! Allah loveth not the corrupt.' (The Table: 64). Sheikh Ahmad Jaballah, member of the Fatwa Body, said that the fatwa sends a strong message to the French that these riots are un-Islamic. 'It came to counter allegations by rightists and extremists who maliciously tried to link the arson to French Muslims,' he told IOL. The fatwa further underlined that minorities in France should live in dignity and suffer no racial discrimination or maltreatment."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there on the Paris Riots.

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Paris Riots Reflect Social, Not Religious, Grievances

On November 8, 2005 The Age reported, "The riots, described as France's worst since May 1968, have been linked to the threat of radical Islam. But both descriptions are misleading. The violent unrest is better compared to the riots that burnt down African-American ghettos across the United States in the 1960s. 'It is nothing to do with radical Islam or even Muslims,' says Olivier Roy, research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research and one of the world's leading authorities on political Islam. He says that although many rioters are from Muslim backgrounds, 'these guys are building a new idea of themselves based on American street culture. It's a youth riot — they are protesting against the fact that they are supposed to be full French citizens and they are not'... Dr Roy doesn't rule out the possibility of some of the young men turning to radical Islam. Some militant Muslims are using the riots as a recruiting tool, while others are trying to play a mediating role. But so far the differences between the young men and the religious radicals is too great, says Dr Roy. 'Radical Islam asks these guys to give up their lives dealing drugs and going to nightclubs. Many of these guys don't want to do that. They want to have cars and girls and smoke hashish.'"

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there on the Paris Riots.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Senate Votes to Limit Rights of Guantanamo Detainees to Sue in Federal Courts

By a vote of 84-14, the U.S. Senate approved a defense authorization bill that contains a provision, known now as the Graham/Levin amendment, that would severely restrict the right of terror suspects held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [pictured], to challenge their detention in federal court.

The original amendment, offered by Senator Lindsey Graham, would have barred federal courts from hearing habeas petitions from these particular detainees. The modified amendment, which passed as part of this authorization bill, permits the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit "to review whether the designations [as enemy combatants] were based on a preponderance of evidence, and to consider whether the [military] tribunals - which don't allow lawyers and rely heavily on secret, classified evidence - use constitutional procedures."

While Senator Graham claimed this bill would "would end legal confusion at Guantanamo," a Duke professor stated that, "There is a great deal of ambiguity and uncertainty in what they did, and I would not predict how the courts will decide this...."

The modified amendment offers some judicial review to these detainees. However, as a prominent legal scholar noted, "this bill... would still cut off numerous sorts of challenges to the Administration's detention policies and practices and GTMO...."

The debate regarding the rights of the detainees has been spirited and contentious. Indeed, Senator Jeff Bingaman noted in a press release:

The current practice of holding detainees or prisoners indefinitely, without affording them basic due process rights, has been widely criticized in this country and throughout the world. For a country such as ours that has consistently advocated for the rule of law, the policies of the current administration are nothing short of a major embarrassment....

I have never advocated that the Department of Defense release these prisoners but, rather, have said that they should be tried in the criminal justice system or they should be tried in the military justice system, but they should be tried somewhere. I believe it is appropriate to ensure that they do not indefinitely remain in a state of legal limbo and are afforded basic due processr ights.
Senator Carl Levin stated on the floor of the Senate:
we must operate according to our Constitution. Our laws and the review which is provided for now, if we agree to this amendment to the adopted Graham amendment, would explicitly make it clear that the review of a court would look at whether standards and procedures that have been agreed to are consistent with our Constitution and our laws. The other problem which I focused on last Thursday with the first Graham amendment was that it would have stripped all the courts, including the Supreme Court, of jurisdiction over pending cases. What we have done in this amendment, we have said that the standards in the amendment will be applied in pending cases, but the amendment will not strip the courts of jurisdiction over those cases. For instance, the Supreme Court jurisdiction in Hamdan is not affected.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Khalsa Assault-Hate Crime Trial: More Details of Khalsa's Testimony

Today's edition of the New York Post provided more information on the testimony of Rajinder Singh Khalsa, a Sikh man who was allegedly beaten on July 11, 2004, by five men: Ryan Meehan, 25; Salvatore Maceli, 27; Nicholas Maceli, 23; Victor Cosentino, 60; and Terence Lyons, 54.

According to the article, Khalsa "was so battered that doctors had to drain blood from his eye." He testified that, "You could not see the white part of the eye.... It was all blood." Khalsa claimed that his nose was "completely shattered" as a result of the assault. Moreover, Khalsa "was forced to sleep sitting up until undergoing corrective surgery about a month later."

When subject to cross-examination, Khalsa "admitted he didn't remember much after the attack began."

Previous reports on the trial are available here, here, and here.

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ABA on the Graham Amendment Regarding Jurisdiction over Habeas Petitions

The President of the American Bar Association, Michael S. Greco, released the following letter regarding the Graham Amendment, which would strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions filed by terror suspects detained in Guantanamo [previous posts here and here]:
The U.S. Senate last week adopted with no hearings and with little debate Senator Lindsey Graham's proposal to eliminate habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo detainees, denying them access to federal courts. The American Bar Association urges the senators to reconsider and defeat that enormous change to our fundamental legal system.

Throughout our nation's history, starting with the defense by lawyer, later president, John Adams of Massachusetts, of the British soldiers who fired on patriots in the Boston Massacre, it has been our commitment to basic principles of justice, even for the most unpopular among us, that has allowed us to maintain the high moral ground in the world, the most strategically important territory for us to occupy as we struggle with the enemies of freedom.

Our influence in the world is directly affected by our actions with respect to those we detain. The prisoners in Guantanamo have been held there, largely incommunicado, for four years. That fact alone offends our heritage of due process and fairness. The writ of habeas corpus was developed precisely to prevent the prolonged detention of individuals without charge, by allowing those held to petition the federal courts. To eliminate the right of habeas corpus would be shocking to our nation.

As Senator Graham himself has stated repeatedly, in the battle against terrorism we cannot allow ourselves to become like the enemy. Adoption of his amendment would undermine the very principles that distinguish us from our enemies.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Update: Senate Votes to Deny Terror Suspects Rights to Sue

On November 10, 2005, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported, "The Senate voted Thursday to bar suspected terrorists being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from challenging their captivity in federal courts, a move that seeks to reverse a landmark Supreme Court decision and heightens the debate about what to do with prisoners captured in the war on terror.

By a 49-42 vote that broke largely along party lines, the Senate adopted an amendment proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the defense authorization bill that would strip prisoners at Guantanamo of their right to file habeas corpus petitions in federal courts. Five Democrats voted with the majority, while four Republicans opposed the amendment. Seven Republicans and two Democrats didn't vote.

'We're going back to a model that's worked for over 200 years - that prisoners in a war should not be able to go into court and sue the people that are fighting the war,' said Graham, a former military judge.

But the amendment might still draw opposition from the Bush administration because it would require Senate confirmation of the top civilian who's charged with reviewing the Guantanamo detainees' cases and would bar the use of any detainee statement obtained by torture...

Civil rights groups and others denounced the vote.

'For the Senate to make a big change like this, so hastily without a hearing, is just appalling,' said Rear Adm. John Hutson, a retired Navy judge advocate general.

Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the vote 'disgraceful.'

'The American military indefinitely detains individuals - and tortures some of them - and the Senate votes to strip them of their rights,' Romero said. 'It's unbelievable.'

Almost 300 of the 500-plus prisoners held in Guantanamo have filed habeas corpus petitions, arguing that they're being held improperly as enemy combatants. Most have been held without charges for more than three years. The Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that detainees were entitled to file such claims.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., called the amendment 'a very major mistake' and suggested that he'll try to change it when the Senate returns on Monday."

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Interfaith Youth Leader on NPR's "This I Believe"

On November 7, 2005, NPR's "This I Believe" series, which features individuals' statements of personal belief, featured Eboo Patel, an American Muslim and director of the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago. Patel discussed an incident in his childhood that has led him into interfaith work and coalition-building with members of other faiths:

"A few years after we graduated [from high school], my Jewish friend from the lunchroom reminded me of an experience we both wish had never happened. A group of thugs in our high school had taken to scrawling anti-Semitic slurs on classroom desks and shouting them in the hallway.

I did not confront them. I did not comfort my Jewish friend. Instead I averted my eyes from their bigotry, and I avoided my friend because I couldn't stand to face him.

My friend told me he feared coming to school those days, and he felt abandoned as he watched his close friends do nothing. Hearing him tell me of his suffering and my complicity is the single most humiliating experience of my life.

My friend needed more than my silent presence at the lunch table. I realize now that to believe in pluralism means I need the courage to act on it. Action is what separates a belief from an opinion. Beliefs are imprinted through actions.

In the words of the great American poet Gwendolyn Brooks: "We are each other's business; we are each other's harvest; we are each other's magnitude and bond."

I cannot go back in time and take away the suffering of my Jewish friend, but through action I can prevent it from happening to others."

You can read and listen to the entire essay on NPR's "This I Believe" website.

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Despite Long History, Stockton Sikhs Feel Misunderstood

On November 5, 2004, The Record reported, "The Sikh religion has a long history in Stockton.

The Stockton temple is the oldest in the country, and Sikhs have lived in this part of California for more than a century. Yet Stockton Sikhs say they their religion and customs are still largely misunderstood by the general public...

Most Sikhs are from the Punjab region of India. Sikhs in Stockton say they are often confused with Muslims from the Middle East because of their turbans and long beards.

'Now we have a mistaken identity. Sometimes people yell or raise their hands and yell that we look like Afghanis,' said Amrik Singh Dhaliwal, president of the Stockton temple.

Some Sikhs say they have faced increased discrimination since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Others say they also have suffered verbal abuse, threats, harassment, racial profiling and violence.

'I am not against any religion, but I am against those who do the crimes,' said Jasbinder Singh Nijjer, treasurer for the temple. He said children had thrown rocks at elderly Sikhs in Stockton parks...

The most-recent incident on the list occurred in Lodi last month, when racist graffiti was found near a Sikh temple.

Dhaliwal said the Stockton temple also has been vandalized but noted that hate crimes and harassment of Sikhs have not been as severe in Stockton as in other communities.

He also praised law-enforcement authorities for educating their officers about Sikh attire and customs. Pete Smith, spokesman for the Stockton Police Department, said officials work closely with the temple leaders during public events such as the Sikhs' annual parade. The department also conducts ongoing cultural diversity trainings."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Institute Studies Arab-Police Relations in Yonkers, NY

On November 5, 2005, The Journal News reported, "There are six police officers of Arab descent in Yonkers, who help with Arabic translation in addition to their day-to-day patrolling duties. Police also deal daily with Arab doctors, nurses and other emergency workers in their line of work.

That kind of side-by-side work environment helps to break down stereotypes and foster respect between the police and the Arab-American community in Yonkers, community leaders say.

The relationship is now under review by the Vera Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit organization that is working to identify ways in which local, state and federal authorities can build trust and improve communication with Arab communities. The organization is studying four U.S. cities with large Arab populations, including Yonkers... Working side by side in a diverse place like Yonkers helps to quell stereotypes or fears about Arabs or other any ethnic group, but the diversity of the city could also create a camouflage for terrorists, Taggart said.

"It's a place where someone could come in and not be noticed, because it is such a melting pot," he said.

Police would be letting their guard down, though, if they focused terrorism prevention on one ethnic group, said the commissioner.

"Terrorists have any kind of face or last name," Taggart said. "We need to focus on people's activities rather than their backgrounds."

While local Arab Americans are upbeat about their relationship with local police, their attitude toward federal law enforcement is different because of perceived threats to their civil rights.

Some Arab Americans resent federal policies such as the 2002 mandatory registration of some Arab and Muslim immigrants, the deportation of immigrants on minor violations, and increased surveillance."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Senator: Bar Terror Suspects from Federal Courts

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) [pictured] has proposed legislation that would strip the federal courts from hearing habeas corpus petitions brought by detainees captured in the war on terrorism. In other words, these suspects would not be able to challenge their detentions in federal court. The proposed legislation responds to rising habeas petitions filed after a Supreme Court ruling from the previous term. As the Guardian (UK) notes:
Initially, the administration refused to let the 500 or so prisoners held at the U.S. naval base to challenge their imprisonment by filing petitions known as habeas corpus. The Supreme Court in 2004 said U.S. courts were open to filings from the detainees. Many of them were captured in Afghanistan and have been held at the jail for several years without being charged. Lawsuits have piled up since.
Text of Senator Graham's proposed amendment is available here, thanks to "How Appealing."

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sikh Prisoners in California Ordered to Remove Turbans and Cut Hair

State prison officials in California have restricted the ability of Sikh prisoners to wear dastaars and maintain long hair. Two California prisons, Solano State Prison and San Quentin State Prison, have disallowed its Sikh prisoners from wearing any head covering, including a dastaar. The prisons have also punished the Sikh prisoners for refusing to comply with orders to cut their hair.

California Code of Regulations § 3062(e), which governs prison inmate grooming standards, states that a “male inmate's hair shall not be longer than three inches and shall not extend over the eyebrows or below the top of the shirt collar while standing upright.” The rule contains no exemptions for religious reasons. While the regulation says that prison officials may not use any force to ensure compliance with its grooming standards, officials may punish inmates who refuse to comply. In this case the Sikh inmates have lost recreation time, phone call rights, and have lost credits that would reduce their time in prison.

In addition to punishing Sikhs for refusing to cut their hair, prison officials have also refused to allow Sikh prisoners to wear turbans or any head covering. Nevertheless, Jewish and Muslim prisoners are allowed to wear their respective religious headdress according to the Sikh prisoners...

The Sikh Coalition has written to prison officials in California requesting that they immediately allow the Sikh prisoners to wear their dastaars and not be punished for refusing to cut their hair. The Coalition’s Legal Director will be traveling to California in the coming month to meet with prison officials and other state officials in order to persuade them to allow the Sikh prisoners to practice their faith. If the prison fails to heed the prisoners’ requests, the Coalition is prepared to take appropriate legal action.

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's Religious Diversity News.

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Muslim Graves Desecrated in Birmingham, UK

On November 4, 2005 BBC News reported, "Dozens of Muslim grave stones have been smashed and pushed over in a cemetery in Handsworth in Birmingham. The desecration was discovered on Friday by relatives visiting the Muslim part of the cemetery. Leaflets were scattered, with insults against Muslims which were attributable to 'Black Nation'. Last month, riots involving Asian and black youths took place in nearby Lozells, sparked by a claim that a 14-year-old black girl had been raped. West Midlands Police have been at the scene collecting the leaflets and taking statements from those who found them."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Anti-Muslim Violence/Vandalism.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Hamdan

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case which 1) challenges the constitutionality of the military tribunals used to try "enemy combatants" that are foreign nationals, and 2) addresses the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to a writ of habeas corpus filed by Hamdan and others similarly situated. As reported elsewhere, the case represents "a major test of presidential wartime authority."

Various documents related to Hamdan, including the cert petition and lower court opinions, are available here.

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Khalsa Assault-Hate Crime Trial: Defendant Files Countersuit

Victor Cosentino, one of the five men charged with assaulting Rajinder Singh Khalsa [pictured], has filed a countersuit against Khalsa and four others [see yesterday's coverage here]. The attorney for Cosentino claims that his client "feels he was falsely arrested on false charges and this has destroyed his life."

More specifically, he feels that "the charges alleging that he helped assault a Sikh... are borne out of racial prejudice against him." The attorney for Cosentino elaborates: "The charges against Mr. Cosentino were motivated solely by Mr. Bammi's prejudice against Italians ... was nothing more than pointing out every single Italian male person that was present." [Rajinder Singh Khalsa also goes by the last name of Bammi.] The attorney further notes that his client did not assault any of the Sikhs, but instead attempted to "squash the incident."

At trial, Gurcharan Singh, Khalsa's cousin, testified that was writting down Cosentino's license plate number after the incident and while the police were on their way. Singh testified that Costentino said, "If the cops come to my house, I'll come back and kill you." On cross-examination, Cosentino's attorney said that, according to Singh's grand jury testimony, Costentino only threatened that he would come back and kick Singh in the rear end. Cosentino's attorney then added, derisively, "Do you know what the word 'embellishment' means?" According to Newsday, "Singh insisted he was not doing so."

Another article on the trial reveals that one of the other defendants, Salvatore Maceli, "admitted to punching Khalsa in the face" and claims "that he was acting in self-defense." Apparently, to defend one's self, one has to beat the other individual, who is 55, into a state of unconsciousness.

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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Canadian MP calls transport ban on kirpan "unacceptable"

On October 26, 2005 The Ottawa Citizen reported, "Prime Minister Paul Martin's parliamentary secretary has condemned VIA Rail for ordering a Sikh student off a train for wearing a ceremonial sword, or kirpan, saying he intends to take the matter up with Transport Minister Jean Lapierre. Navdeep Bains, an Ontario Sikh and MP for Mississauga-Brampton South, said yesterday he also plans to raise the incident with VIA Rail executives and the board of directors. Mr. Bains noted that he wears the kirpan in the House of Commons without any problem and is disappointed that a Crown corporation, such as VIA, would order a man out of a train for wearing an article of religious significance. 'It is unfortunate and it is unacceptable. It is disappointing to see an institution like VIA Rail taking a position like this, because you expect better from them,' Mr. Bains said."

This article cross-posted at the Pluralism Project's International Religious Diversity News. Read more there about Kirpan Discrimination Cases.

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Khalsa Assault-Hate Crime Trial: Defendants Identified in Court

The trial of five men accused of savagely beating Rajinder Singh Khalsa continued this week [see yesterday's coverage here].

Gurcharan Singh, Khalsa's cousin, identified the five men charged with verbally harassing and assaulting Khalsa.

According to Singh's testimony, on the day of the incident, he was in a car with Khalsa, Khalsa's friend, and the friend's son "when one of the defendants, Ryan Meehan, yelled, 'Give me my curtain.'" Singh told the presiding judge, Justice Seymour Rotker, that he asked Meehan, "What do you mean, 'Give me my curtain?'"

Moments later, according to Singh's testimony, another defendant, Terence Lyons, said "You still here?.... Go to your home. Go to your country." To which Singh replied, "[T]his is my country. This is my home, too." From there, noted Singh, the defendants started punching him and then began assaulting Khalsa, "who was beaten into unconsciousness."

The defense is arguing:
  • [T]he Sikh men were responsible for escalating the situation into a fight. For example, before the first punch was thrown, Singh refused to allow [two of the defendants] to leave the area because he had called 911.
  • The attorneys also contend that their clients had no hateful intent during the incident.

In other words, the defense is arguing that 1) one man, Singh, was able to stop two men from leaving an area, the same two men who assaulted Singh and helped beat Khalsa into a state of unconsciousness, and 2) the same men who engaged in religious and ethnic harassment by uttering derogatory remarks about Singh and Khalsa's turbans, and also about their status as immigrants, had no "hateful intent"? Indeed, from the testimony it appears as if the hate speech is what instigated the entire incident itself.


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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Trial of Five Men Charged with Beating Rajinder Singh Khalsa Begins

On July 11, 2004, Rajinder Singh Khalsa [pictured] was the victim of a senseless and brutal beating [see previous posts here and here]. He was met with a barrage of insults, physically assaulted, and left for dead as he lay unconscious. The perpetrators fractured his left eye socket and broke his nose; they continued to kick his body while he was unconscious. Before attacking Khalsa, the perpetrators remarked, in reference to Khalsa's turban, "Look, somebody stole my curtains" and "Why did you steal my sheets from my house?"

In July of this year, Khalsa filed a civil suit against the five men charged in the assault. He noted then, "People should know that Sikhs will not suffer in silence.... I hope for justice not only for myself, but all hate-crime victims."

On Monday, the trial began at the State Supreme Court. Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Parke said in her opening statement, "It was a truly vicious, despicable act of hate." The defense is arguing that "the Sikh men were solely responsible for escalating the situation into a near melee" (emphasis added).

The defendants are Salvatore Maceli, 27, his brother, Nicholas Maceli, 23, and their stepfather, Victor Consentino, 60, Terence Lyons, 54, and Ryan Meehan, 25. They are charged with second-degree assault as a hate crime, second-degree assault and second-degree harassment. The five face up to 15 years in prison.

We will follow the trial closely as more information becomes available...

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Supreme Court Denies Cert. in Post-9/11 Harassment Case

On October 31, 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal brought by Paul Schlaflin, a man who was arrested for painting a slur on his car after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Schlaflin painted the words, "Death to the Sand Niggers," on his car. He was arrested and he subsequently sued the arresting officers, claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity, even if First Amendment rights were implicated by the suit. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear Schlaflin's appeal effectively upholds the Third Circuit's decision.

The opinion of the Third Circuit is available here.

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Last Day of Production

August, 27, 2005- Today was the final day of our summer film production. We spent the day filming b-roll (images of people and places) around our nation's capital, and then we ended our summer journey with a celebration dinner. And yes, even a shameless dance of joy. Today's pictures speak louder than words, so I invite you to glimpse moments from our day-- and our joy at the day's end!


We began at the Lincoln Memorial, and then we drove our van to the White House, where we were met with secret service agents. They kindly showed us to our own parking spot that they had reserved for the "Motion Picture Crew".

In the mean time, the crew was doing the real work. Here is our cinematographer Matt Blute filming the White House from a distance:


Our last stop of the day (and of the summer) was Capitol Hill, where the crew filmed the great center of American government.

Our friend Prabhjit Singh joined us, and we all watched as Don(our first camera) and Sharat (our director) helped Matt film the building.

After this, we needed to move one more time for a final angle on the Capitol. Matt turned to me and asked me to film the final shot of production. A little too giddy, I accepted. And I managed to pull it off, despite Matt's incessant "Don't mess up!":

After the last shot-- and an entire summer on the road together-- there was a burst of relief. There were many hugs. And congratulations. And yes, there was even a dance of joy. We had somehow managed to pull it off.

At the end of the day, we joined our friends and crew for a celebration dinner. Sharat and I toasted our incredibly resilient and dedicated and riotous crew: Matt, Don, and Marcus. We toasted Jessica and Tracy, our hard-working Directors of Research and Communications (respectively). And we thanked our beautiful friends Manu and Archana, and all the people who have supported us on this long long journey together.

Production is over! Post-production now begins. We will return to California in a few days to begin life in the editing room, where Sharat and his fellow editor Scott Rosenblatt will spend the fall turning 130 hours of footage into a movie.

What's next?

Putting this movie into the world.

You can help us make it happen.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]


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About DNSI

The Discrimination & National Security Initiative (DNSI) is a research entity that examines the mistreatment of minority communities during times of military action or national crisis.

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